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The reforms in Syria: the opening up of the regime or its new methodology of repression and violence?

This is a guest post by Dan Littauer

Last week president Bashar al-Assad appointed a new unimpressive government made of the old guard of the Ba’ath party, ready to be dictated exactly what to do. That of course came as no surprise.  But what was surprising was the hint of the orders that followed; this Monday Bashar al-Assad made a speech to the newly sworn in Syrian Cabinet, praising the beginning of a launch of a series of reforms, of which the lifting of Syria’s 48 year old Emergency Law, is its first pinnacle achievement. Syria is now going to receive a series of constitutional reforms to expedite the process of democratisation.  Yet he cryptically added:

When this package of laws is passed, there will no longer be a need to organise demonstrations in Syria.What will be immediately required of the relevant bodies, particularly the Ministry of Interior, is to implement the laws strictly and rigorously and not to tolerate any act of sabotage.

With these laws, we draw a line between reform and sabotage; and there are clear differences between the demands for reform and the intentions of creating chaos and sabotage. We want the law to be implemented immediately, and we don’t want any sabotage or any undermining of the security of Syrian citizens. The Syrian people are civilized, committed to law and order and do not accept chaos and demagoguery.”

Bashar al-Assad is thus no reformer, and these measures are not so much designed it seems to initiate reforms but to ensure the survival of the regime.

Further confirmation to this suspicion came yesterday when the Syrian Ministry of Interior interrupted the Syrian State TV announcing clear threats against any gatherings or protests which the new law will from now on “clearly regulate” the “right” to protest.  Any organised protest must be submitted to and registered with the Ministry of Interior, further adding that the law will instruct the security forces of Syria to arrest anyone they deem suspicious or acting contrary to the law (without elaborating much further). The televised broadcast also announced new law regarding homeland security “will not allow anything that might ‘threaten’ the ’security’ of the state and civilians lives.” Again no further elaboration was given, although the statement mentioned that the protests have been instigated by Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic “terrorists”.

Of course there was no mention of the Legislative Decree No. 64 of 2008 that remained intact and “unreformed”; basically giving the security forces (the dreaded “Mukhabarat”) all the power they want to carry out “security measures” as usual.  But what is worrying in this is the heightening of rhetoric of the Syrian regime; it is under no illusion that the protests will not cease, and therefore made the battle plans plain for all to see: we are not about the give up and you’re going to be beaten down if you try by the pretext of salafi, muslim brotherhood, terrorism, etc…

The significance of this did not evade the protestors who responded, yesterday evening, with protests all over the country.   In Lattakia, Alawi and Sunni marched together saying that they are one in opposing the regime:

Another protest in Lattakia ended last night in bloodshed:

While in Zabadani, nearby Damascus protestors chanted “No Salafis, No Muslim Brothers, Yes we salute the courageous”

Since the lifting of the Emergency Law already 8 people have been detained by the Mukabarat, among them Mahmuod Issa, the figure head of the protests in city of Homs.  A peaceful protest today in the faculty of Medicine, Damasucs, was met with violence by thugs allied to the regime. The “lifting of Emergency Law”, which is at best an empty gesture, at worst a cynical repressive ploy.